Moore's Law, the Homebrew Computer Club and Sustainable Living

For the past 30 or so years innovation has been defined by the march of computing into our daily lives. The first personal computers were strutting their stuff at places like the short lived yet immortalized Homebrew Computer Club back around the birth of the computing industry. Countless fortunes were yet to be made by inventors and entrepreneurs who forever changed nearly everything we use to communicate with others in our daily life. In fact, if presented with today’s impressive gadgets back in 1976, I would think we would be hard pressed for any futurist to have predicted how far we’ve come since then.

Along the way the industry discovered Moore’s Law - that the computing power of a microprocessor will double every 18 months. And in that same timeframe we would almost see the same trend with ever decreasing prices. Sitting in my home office typing on my battery powered personal computer I connect to a worldwide computer network via a wireless radio and with my network browsing software search real-time DRAM prices in Amazon’s database while simultaneously listening to Virgin Radio out of the UK to note that 1GB is now less than $120. Sorry for using dated language but the number of innovations that make my simple, 20 second query are almost far, far too numerous to appreciate.

Where am I going with this? For the past year or so I have taken a greater than casual interest in the green movement. I think there is a lot wrong with how their efforts are being sold, hijacked and used for other agendas but at the core I believe there are some good, passionate, idealistic people trying to make a difference. To my suspicion, much like the folks you would have met in 1975 at the Homebrew Computer Club.

Today’s renewable energy effort is like that of the computer industry of 1975. Populated by most standards with crazy brilliant lunatics passionately trying to get the rest of us to notice the impending revolution before us; hobbyists with kits that required specialized knowledge and know-how simply to add numbers let alone search the web at light speed. Today, many renewable energy products feel like kits: they are invasive, expensive, difficult to use, and underperform alternative powered sources.

We need to find the Moore’s Laws of sustainable living. How could you and I consume only the energy we could produce on our own? Today’s renewable energy options, while fascinating aren’t even close. When you give it some thought nearly every aspect of your life would be changed. How, what and when you eat, how you move around the planet and how you work. What if you only had the energy you created for yourself? What if you had your own “personal power plant” as opposed to time sharing with the rest of users?

Finding a sustainable lifestyle sets a premium on both conservation and generation. Sustainable lifestyles aren’t pro-nuke, anti-ethanol, wind, solar, geothermal or whatever. Just as the technology industry today is nearly limitless in it’s diversity one fact remains clear that markets are atheists - they reward innovation and improvements in performance with little preference to which deity is being worshiped.

How do we make renewable energy products so affordable and efficient that billions of us could depend on them every day of our lives? If we could even get moderately close to what we’ve accomplished building “toys for boys” we’ll be a very long way down the road. I believe discovering, inventing, commercializing and popularizing ways we all can live a sustainable lifestyle to be the imperative of our generation. It is our Apollo, our Montgomery, Alabama and our Pearl Harbor. It is all of them - our greatest technological, social and patriotic challenge. Sustainable lifestyles are about hope, compassion and responsibility not manifest destiny nor doomsday scenarios.

I’ll end by updating the infamous challenge Steve Jobs offered to John Sculley when trying to recruit him to Apple as CEO from Pepsi, “What do you want to do with the rest of your life, sell sugar flavored water or change the world?” I ask us who have selfishly enriched ourselves these past two decades as fellow travelers of the technology industry, “What do you want to do with the rest of your life: design devices that allow spoiled teens to carry around their music, tv shows and movies or change the world?” I know my answer, how about you?